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Home Alone: Leaving Your Teen With LD and/or AD/HD Unsupervised

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By Melinda Sacks

Tips for Paving the Way to Independence

Parents have to think about what the most worrisome scenario is, says psychologist Plante. "Is it the wild party with drinking and carousing, or is it picking on a younger sibling? An important question is, 'What is the worst thing that could happen and how do you problem-solve?'"

To deal with the dilemma of when to start letting your child stay alone or be left in charge of younger siblings and how to prepare, experts suggest taking some or all of the following steps:

  • Listen to your own intuition. If you think your child is ready to manage on his own for short periods of time, you're probably right.
  • Pay attention to your child's feelings. How does he feel about being left? If he's nervous, be patient and consider waiting a little longer.
  • Take baby steps. Try leaving him alone for short periods of time. Start with a walk around the block, then try running a short errand. Each time things go well try adding a little time to the next outing.
  • Create an emergency plan. Do this with your teen, write it down, and review it. Talk about what could go wrong, figure out how to handle each possible scenario, and agree on a plan.
  • Consider a class or training program. Most local Red Cross agencies offer babysitter training and first aid certification. Both programs can foster self-confidence and real-life skills for dealing with emergencies.
  • Have backup support in place. Cell phones are great for staying connected while you are out. Consider asking a neighbor to serve as a backup and tell him when you are going out.
  • Move ahead according to your own comfort level. Remember that every child is different and so is every parent. What is comfortable for a relative or friend may not be right for you and your child, or your particular situation.
  • Set specific rules. Keep in mind that the safest way to avoid your child doing something you don't want him doing is to be specific. If you worry about your child using the stove and starting a fire, say, "It's OK to use the microwave, but no cooking on the stove." If it's alright to have the neighbor over to watch TV, but no one else, spell that out clearly.

Looking to the Future

Now that our son has become comfortable with being left alone for the evening, and has proven he's reliable, we are facing a new hurdle - what to do if we are going to be gone overnight. While many of our friends now leave their 16- and 17-year-old kids alone when they go out of town, our son doesn't want that much time home alone. But of course he also doesn't want a babysitter.

Our salvation has come in the form of responsible young adults, family friends in their 20s, who are delighted to escape roommates and a tiny apartment to sleep over at our house, make some money, and have a dinner out. Alex is happy with their company so far, and we don't spend our rare weekend away fretting about his well-being.

I have to admit, though, I am not looking forward to that first weekend when he is master of the house. We will be taking more small steps and undoubtedly making lots of cell phone calls.